Non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon called for category changes because they "erase non-binary identities by limiting performers to identifying as male or female."
"Billions" star Asia Kate Dillon has declined an offer to participate as a judge for the SAG Awards after the organization said on Monday that it would not be changing its gender-specific categories for acting, per Variety.
Dillon had initially called on the Screen Actors Guild to consider the change in an open letter response to that offer. Dillon has previously submitted and been nominated in best actor categories at the Critics' Choice Awards as they identify the term "actor" as non-gender specific. Dillon is non-binary and prefers the pronouns they/them.
Invited to judge female and male actors in lead and supporting roles, Dillon responded in an open letter on Variety nearly two weeks ago that such binary categorization not only excludes many gender identities -- including theirs -- but also "serve as an endorsement of the gender binary at large, which actively upholds other forms of discrimination, including racism, the patriarchy, and gender violence."
Dillon came out as non-binary in 2016 and has been pushing for inclusiveness since then in acting categories. As precedent, they touted their enthusiasm and involvement in presenting the first gender-neutral acting award to Emma Watson at the MTV Movie & TV Awards in 2017.
"It’s so cool to be here presenting the first acting award ever that celebrates performance free of any gender distinctions," Dillon said that night. "Tonight we celebrate portrayals of the human experience, because the only distinction we should be making when it comes to awards is between each outstanding performance."
As such, Dillon said they would accept SAG's offer only should they combine their acting categories to eliminate gender distinctions. "This courageous and overdue step from my union would send a wide message that SAG-AFTRA not only supports me but supports all its non-binary and gender non-conforming members," said Dillon.
While acknowledging that "the work is by no means done," SAG-AFTRA replied to Dillon that they were reluctant to consider such changes at this time because they would raise "significant concerns in terms of gender parity as well as racial and ethnic diversity."
They did, however, say they were willing to be a part of this ongoing conversation and would be reaching out to Dillon for further discussions. So there is at least an acknowledgement that there is room for greater representation here and SAG-AFTRA is open to talking with Dillon to help navigate this path and find it.
That said, though, Dillon was quick to dismiss at least one part of the guild's claim. In fact, they had already done so in their initial message. But upon hearing SAG-AFTRA claim that binary categorization is better for racial and ethnic diversity, Dillon had to reiterate the point.
"To be honest, I struggle to understand how having female and male acting categories has done anything to ensure racial and ethnic diversity," Dillon wrote, adding statistics detailing that individual acting awards nominees have been 88 percent white.
"I don’t have all of the answers; all I can do is expose the problems and commit to working toward their solutions," Dillon said. "I continue to believe that abolishing gendered acting categories, in tandem with putting in place new regulations to ensure a significant increase of BIPOC nominees, is a key part of the solution."